Head-On-The Block Predictions
- Latin America’s domination likely to continue
- Holland could suffer in the heat
- Germany and France look Europe’s best bets
As the best group stage of any World Cup since 1982 comes to an end, the tournament proper begins. It’s knockout time! As the old truism goes, “The World Cup begins now.” Everything so far has been window dressing, context, and noise. What happens from here on in is what will go down in history.
As always at this stage of a tournament, people point to form as a guide for what might happen and who might win. Mexico looked tasty in emerging from a difficult Group A. Chile buzzed energetically past the Spaniards in Group B. Costa Rica shocked three former world champions in topping Group D. Colombia played with childlike joy in dominating Group C. All well and good. Yet, it wouldn’t be incredible if all four of these nascent teams were eliminated in the second round.
Latin American sides have an obvious advantage over European nations. The weather conditions are, in general, less inhospitable to them. However, given that we’ve already got a South American quarter of the draw (Brazil v. Chile with the winner of that meeting the winner of Colombia v. Uruguay), the Latin Americans won’t be able to bring that edge to bear in a major way just yet. Brazil will be expected to make the semi-finals from this section of the bracket. They’re growing in to the tournament, have officialdom subconsciously on their side, and will play teams – with the notable exception of Uruguay – who will accept their underling status as soon as they glimpse the famous yellow shirts. Even if the Celeste make it through, they’ll face the hosts without Luis Suarez. It’s hard to see any other outcome than a Brazilian win.
Germany and France look the most-likely semi-final opposition at this juncture. Germany have done well to survive the sizzle of Salvador and the furnace of Fortaleza to take four points from Portugal and Ghana. Algeria will make life difficult, but shouldn’t unduly trouble the Germans, so their next major test is likely to be against the French – who should be too strong for Nigeria in the last 16. France have had a comfortable route – playing all of their matches in the temperate south. That might give them an edge. If Germany do prevail, will their travels count against them for the ultimate test?
The other half of the draw is patchy. Holland will face a furnace for the first time, and Mexico could well prevail as a result. The Dutch have avoided the north east until now, but will suffer in the sun in Fortaleza. The Mexicans are good enough to profit. If they do, they could find themselves up against Greece in the last eight. Costa Rica will have a say in whether or not that happens, but the Europeans are doughty opponents and will be well organised and difficult to break down. There’s little to choose between the two sides, but the game is in Recife, and that must favour the Central Americans. To this observer, this is the weakest quadrant of the draw.
All of which means that Argentina are likely to make the final without really facing a true heavyweight. Switzerland have the nous to make things awkward in the last 16, but Ottmar Hitzfeld must find a way to stop Lionel Messi if they are to create an upset. Belgium are likely opponents then – but the spirited USA shouldn’t be dismissed. In a tournament where the Americas have dominated, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see three South Americans and two North/Central American teams in the last eight along with Europe’s best bets, Germany and France.